Every winter, we look forward to putting together this article of the best watercolor paintings of the year. Of course, “best” is subjective, but one way a painting earns that distinction is to stand out in competition.
So with that being said, we turn to art societies — from the West Coast to the East Coast, Florida to Canada — to bring our attention to some of North America’s best watercolor paintings of 2017. Enjoy!
Brightness Burning on the Heart Within
My oldest daughter, Neve, was the inspiration for this piece. She’s been my graceful muse for many years. Neve is poised and reserved, and in this composition, I was able to catch her in direct profile. A striking diagonal was created with her downcast head and hand placement.
The two primary elements in my work are bold compositions paired with a delicate application of paint. I had hoped to achieve a sense of elegance, beauty, thoughtfulness and intimacy.
—Ali Cavanaugh, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri | Missouri Watercolor Society
I wanted to give an award to this particular piece because it exhibits a broad range of techniques, skillful handling and interesting subject matter: the gesture; the angle or position of the body; powerful, stunning color; and a large area of negative space. A painting like this is hard to forget.
–Dongfeng Li, Juror
Carrie Mae has been a friend of my family’s since before I was born. She’s a kind, brilliant human being. She’s 97 now, and was born in Boston. She graduated from A&M as valedictorian in 1941 and received her master’s from Columbia in 1945. She got her Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1958.
Her mother owned a hotel in the Boston area for 35 years called “The Mother’s Lunch.” It was one of the few — if not the only hotel — where African-Americans could stay. The list of people who stayed there is a “Who’s Who” in American culture — Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Sam Davis, Mary McLeod Bethune and many others. She’s talked about her sister doing Ella Fitzgerald’s hair just before she went on stage to perform.
Carrie Mae is a masterful example of design, foresight and capability possessed by very few contemporary artists. The muted colors are utilized with a delicacy and deftness of brushstrokes that emphasize the sense of dignified tranquility that clearly indicates the subject is a character of strong positive influence in the artist’s life.
The subject’s pose at the edge of her chair and the slight lean of her head suggest a natural listener, reinforced by her face, with its somber expression, and her clasped hands. If the painting could speak to me, it would say “wisdom.”
One thing that caught my attention was the little bit of red nail polish. Once I saw that bit of red, the muted tones of the seat and wooden furniture began to reveal a repetition of the same color placed throughout the image.
–Iain Stewart, Juror
Glass on Glass on Fabric
Painting glass in watercolor makes for a unique set of challenges, beginning with the importance of seeing the various reflections and refraction in the glass and drawing them accurately.
When I composed this painting, I wanted to use the taller glass pieces. After setting up the still life, I realized it needed a horizontal element, so I introduced the fabric with its more organic design.
—Laurie Goldstein-Warren, Buckhannon, West Virginia | Califonia Watercolor Association
Glass on Glass on Fabric possesses a fanciful, magical quality. The effects of light on glass are mesmerizing. The sparkling highlights contrast with deep, rich darks. The luminous, complementary color scheme and skillful composition are beautifully orchestrated in this powerful watercolor.
–Donna Zagotta, Juror
Morning in Paris
The view from my hotel balcony in Paris near the Luxembourg Gardens inspired me to paint. The city was so quiet in the morning, and the painted lines on the street created beautifully defined shadows.
I wanted to capture that feeling of calm, as well as the color and value changes created by the shadows.
—June Webster, Cheshire, Connecticut | Transparent Watercolour Society of America
By simplifying the image and illuminating the subject, the basic design and divisions of space are balanced and keep the viewer’s eye moving. It’s a well-designed and evocative image that makes one feel a sense of being alone within a city full of people.
–Jean Pederson, Juror
My paintings are always about my life or some aspect of my life. I work from my imagination, not models or photos.
My inspiration was constant bouts of insomnia. I’ve done a long-running series of paintings called Insomniacswith which I try to convey the feeling of needing to do something but being unable to.
—Cathy Hegman | Holly Bluff, Mississippi | American Watercolor Society
Stars represent the night. There are sheep, ships passing and a fantastical hairpiece, which could represent a cloud or the dark night.
The painting possesses good graphic qualities, strong vertical and horizontal movement, contrasts light and dark values, and has good color and competent technique. Plus, it captures and conveys a message beyond surface appearance that we all can relate to.